Progressive Themes of Mr. Novak Television Series

First Season 1963-1964

Principal Vane (Dean Jagger) consoles Jefferson High student
Marcy Desmond (Gloria Calomee) after a racist attack in
“A Single Isolated Incident.”

Producer/Creator E. Jack Neuman was a writer of integrity, vision and
truth. It was his intention to feature realistic and honest plotlines in his
new television program that reflected situations and issues of real high
schools of the day.
I interviewed over forty people for the book and virtually everyone
commented, after viewing their respective episodes again, on the cutting
edge scripts. They were all amazed by the fact that the series did not
seem dated or corny in the writing, direction, acting and production.
There were several comments that many of the themes could apply to
both teachers and students in high schools of the present time.
Neuman wanted his series to entertain as well as inform. There were
some light hearted episodes as well as many of varied levels of dramatic
presentation. If the series is re-released on DVD box sets…which is a
goal of mine, the various viewers and reviewers will undoubtedly be
impressed by the superior and lasting quality of this landmark TV show.
Here are ten episodes from the first season that exemplify the class,
realism and value of Mr. Novak.

1. “X is the Unknown Factor” – 10/15/63. David Macklin guest stars
as a brilliant student who is caught cheating. He is a possible
recipient of a scholarship and pressure is brought on Mr. Novak
and Principal Vane to ignore his transgressions.

2. “A Single Isolated Incident” – 10/22/63. Gloria Calomee appears
as an African American student who is the victim of racial
prejudice. The press intervenes to stir up emotions and Principal
Vane must take command of an explosive situation.

3. “The Risk” – 10/29/63. Alexander Scourby guests as a former
teacher who has been plagued by alcoholism which forced his
resignation. A former mentor to young Mr. Novak and now sober,
he attempts to join the faculty at Jefferson High School.

4. “Hello Miss Phipps” – 11/5/63. Veteran actress Lillian Gish stars
as a biology teacher who advocates sex education for her students.
She faces disapproval from several parents who demand her
resignation. She offers advice and comfort to a pregnant student.

5. “Love in the Wrong Season” – 12/3/63. Pat Crowley appears as a
teacher who has been assigned to a boy who is a slow reader. The
boy, played by Tommy Kirk, and his instructor soon have feelings
for each other. There is a possibility of a teacher student affair.

6. “The Exile” – 1/14/64. Richard Evans stars as a former dropout of
Jefferson High. After a few years of aimless failure, he wishes to
return to school. However, regulations might not permit him to do
so and confrontation occurs before a harsh lesson is learned.
(This episode was so well received that 16mm prints were
requested to show at schools and prisons.)

7. “Sparrow on the Wire” – 1/21/64. Young Beau Bridges appears as
a student who has an attitude of anti-semitism. He insults a Jewish
classmate who discusses this slur with Jewish teacher Mike Kellin.
They disagree on the way to confront the racial insults.
(A 16mm print of this episode was requested by the Los Angeles
Chapter of the B’nai B’rith for exhibition at their meetings.)

8. “The Death of a Teacher” – 2/4/64. A popular teacher, played by
Frank Albertson, succumbs to a heart attack in the hall at Jefferson.
A fellow instructor, portrayed by Harry Townes, discovers that it
was faculty overwork and stress that killed his friend.

9. “Day in the Year” – 1/24/64. A girl in Novak’s class, played by
Patricia Hyland, collapses and becomes unconscious. She is diagnosed  as a victim of drug abuse and soon dies.  Novak and
Vane cooperate with the Narcotics Bureau to find the pusher.

10. “Fare Thee Well” – 1/7/64. Noreen Corcoran guests as a
brilliant Senior. Her student pregnancy complicates matters as
she will be required by law to leave the school and not graduate
with her class. She wishes to hide her situation from her parents.

These are all fine episodes of dramatic television that are just as
emotionally affecting today as they were when first broadcast over fifty
years ago. The Mr. Novak series remains a genuine classic of quality
and first rate entertainment value

Second Season 1964-65

Robert Coolidge (Martin Landau) instructs a student in the application of a teaching machine in “Enter a Strange Animal.”

  1. Moonlighting” – 9/22/64 – His father’s sudden illness forces Novak to take a second job to pay the hospital bills. Novak’s extra hours of work interferes with his competency as an instructor. The issue of a teacher’s inadequate salary is presented with honesty and taste.
  1. With a Hammer in His Hand, Lord, Lord!” – 9/29/64 – Simon Oakland guests as a woodshop teacher who aggressively drives his students to succeed. He is subsequently attacked by several of them. The intense competition for carpentry positions in the job market is emphasized.
  1. One Monday Afternoon” – 10/27/64 – The star quarterback is accidentally killed during a scrimmage during football practice. Claude Akins appears as a coach who may be pushing his athletes too hard. The recurring fatalities during High School sports are explored with complexity and truth.
  1. A” is For Anxiety” – June Harding guests as an average student who is being forced to become an over achiever by her domineering Mother. She eventually breaks down and cannot rise to the unrealistic expectations which have so unnerved her.
  1. Love Among the Grownups” – 12/29/64 – Novak and an attractive married French teacher, played by Geraldine Brooks, are the target of a poison pen letter campaign. They are accused of having an illicit affair by a jealous coed who has a crush on Novak.
  1. Enter a Strange Animal” – 1/19/65 – Martin Landau guests as an aggressive salesman of the new teaching machines (computers.) He tells the faculty that the machines can do the work of teachers faster and more efficiently than they can. Nehemiah Persoff appears as teacher who argues for the importance of human interaction with students.
  1. The Silent Dissuaders” – 2/16/65 – Claudine Longet stars as an exchange science teacher from Iran. She encourages a gifted student, played by Kim Darby, to pursue a career in science. The girl’s mother and boyfriend use forceful tactics to convince her to marry right after graduation.
  1. The Tender Twigs” – 3/16/65 – Robert Culp guests as a father of a student who attends a mock U.N. assembly at the school. His extremist views are insulted and he accuses Novak and another teacher of teaching Communism. The fanatical parent uses damaging propaganda against the instructor in an attempt to halt the UN exercises. Intense pressure almost causes the teacher to resign.

(“The Tender Twigs” was screened at the Dag Hammerskjold Auditorium of the United Nations.)

  1. The Firebrand” – 4/13/65 – Walter Koenig appears as a student agitator who stirs a student demonstration on behalf of a school bond issue. The pupils go on a strike as the leader becomes drunk with power and cannot realize that the point has been made. He is ultimately revealed to be a frightened misfit who feels he must lead.
  1. And Then I Wrote” – 4/20/65 – Tommy Sand stars as a brilliant science student who turns down a four year scholarship. He feels that he must help his father, played by Mike Kellin, who is an inept businessman at running the family music store. The conflict of perceived family obligations and individual progression comes to a head.

These episodes of Mr. Novak’s second season all contained themes that are relevant to the students and teachers of today. They are not dated in the slightest and showcase the enduring qualities of class and excellence that personify this classic television series.